TRA Opinion –
We Texans have a lot of pride and for good reason. We have great sports teams, great universities, an actively growing population and the second largest economy in the U.S.
Even with the energy industry in a bit of a slump, Forbes magazine ranked Texas the fourth best state for business, not to mention that Texas ranks first for current economic climate thanks to having the second-fastest economic growth and the third-fastest job growth in the nation over the past five years. One hundred and nine of the 1,000 largest public and private companies in the U.S. are based in Texas – and other states actively cite our state as their competition for attracting and maintaining jobs.
Freight rail infrastructure is another area where Texas leads. We boast the highest railroad mileage and number of railroad employees of any state in the U.S. The strength of the Texas rail network and the strength of the Texas economy are not coincidental, but rather, directly related.
Freight railroads are the backbone of the economy, nationally and here in Texas. Railroads connect factories, farms, mines, ports and refineries to markets across the state, country and globe. BNSF Railway headquarters are located in Fort Worth and there is also a strong presence by Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern and 43 short line and regional railroads.
This means jobs – not just well paying railroad jobs, but also jobs in logistics and at ports, as well as in the energy and manufacturing sectors and at every other business that relies on rail to move goods.
We in Texas are also good at allowing businesses to thrive by removing obstacles to success – like unnecessary regulations that inhibit innovation. Here, too, railroads have their own success story.
In 1980, Congress freed railroads from stifling federal over-regulation and let them act like other businesses for the first time, setting their own rates and routes. That led to a historic rail renaissance; freight railroads are stronger than ever and customers are paying almost half of what they did before deregulation.
Now, some regulators have proposed rolling back those reforms and forcing railroads to share their tracks with competitors at rates set by the government or cap prices for certain commodities. These proposals would be a mistake and risk gumming up the rail network, limiting railroads’ abilities to continue spending and investing the massive amount they do each year to maintain and expand the rail network.
Hamstringing the ability of railroads to invest at a time when our economy needs them to do even more is exactly the wrong approach, and it could harm companies and communities across Texas and the U.S.
Let’s hope policymakers in Washington, D.C., not only reject calls to reregulate freight railroads but also turn their attention to policies – like modernizing outdated regulations and reforming the tax code – that will spur economic growth across the nation from small towns to large cities.
Remember that when you see a freight train rolling down the tracks you are watching America’s economy on the move. Let’s keep ‘em rolling.
Peter LeCody serves as President of Texas Rail Advocates and as Chair of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
August 3, 2017